Betta Fish Tank Setup – 5 Steps To Success

Are you putting together your first betta fish tank? With so much conflicting information out there, it can be tough to know where to start! Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This article will teach you everything you need to know about setting up the perfect Betta Fish Tank Setup.

We’ll start with the equipment and then cover how to put it all together. Plus, this post is also filled with heaps of other useful info, so let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • A single betta fish needs a tank of at least 5 gallons. You’ll need a larger tank if you plan on adding any tank mates. Avoid very small tanks, bowls, or cups- these are bad for your fish’s health
  • Every betta fish tank should include a filter, and you’ll probably need an aquarium heater too. Unfiltered tank setups can result in poor water quality.
  • Live plants and decorations are a great way to create a natural environment for your betta fish. Just make sure your decorations are smooth and fish safe.
  • Betta fish tanks need regular testing and regular maintenance to ensure your betta’s health.

Tank Size

Alright, let’s start with the most controversial topic when it comes to betta fish keeping, tank size. You’ve probably seen bettas in tiny plastic bowls, cups, and other small containers. The salesman at the local pet store might have even told you that that’s what they prefer.

The fact is that betta fish need a good amount of room to swim and explore, and more importantly, you need a decent amount of water volume in the tank to maintain good water quality and a healthy betta.

Some aquarists will tell you that a 2-gallon tank is enough, and then you get fish keepers who insist that every fish needs a huge tank to be happy. Well, my advice is to start with 5 gallons as your minimum. This is a great size for a single male betta fish.

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If you plan on adding more fish and setting up a community tank, however, it’s better to start off with a 10 or 20 gallon tank. The shape isn’t all that important, but avoid very tall, deep tanks or anything that is difficult to clean.

Finally, I recommend using a lid/hood over your tank to avoid your betta jumping out. Bettas can jump pretty high when they want to, and a sealed tank will also maintain its water level much better.

Filtration

Filtration can be another sticky subject. Some experienced aquarists are able to maintain heavily planted tanks without filters, but why risk it? You might find yourself performing more water changes than you’d like!

Betta males have been bred to have long, flowing fins, which means they are not very strong swimmers. Your filter should not create a strong current because your betta will be exhausted just trying to stay in one place!

Filters come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, but a sponge filter or hang-on back is going to work best in a small betta fish tank setup. Let’s take a look at the best filters for your betta aquarium setup.

Hang On Back (HOB) Filters

Hang-on back filters are all-in-one units that pump water over filtration media. This type of filter clips onto the rim of your tank and can create a gentle cascade effect. Choose a model that matches your tank size and has an adjustable flow for the best results.

Sponge Filters

Sponge filters are set at the bottom of your aquarium, usually in a back corner where they can be hidden away. This type of filter requires a small air pump, a length of airline tubing, and a one-way in-line valve to operate safely.

Sponge filters are often the cheapest option, and they work great, just be sure to buy a decent air pump to minimize noise.

Heating

Bettas are tropical fish, which means they come from a part of the world where it stays warm all year long. You might not need to worry about water temperature if you live in a similar climate, but for most of us, an aquarium heater is required.

Most heaters simply attach to the inside of your aquarium with suction cups. You’ll need to make sure that a heater will fit into your aquarium before you purchase it, of course. A 50-watt heater is a good choice for 5-gallon tanks and more, but if you live in a warm climate, a 25-watt could work out too.

Aquarium heaters are adjustable, but I always recommend adding a thermometer to your tank because it makes monitoring the actual temperature possible. These range from simple stick-on glass thermometers to handy digital models with alarms that alert you if the tank temperature gets too hot or too cold.

Lighting

Betta fish do not have any specific lighting needs, but they do require a natural day/night cycle. You might need to invest in better lighting if you plan on growing a lot of plants, however.

Choose a model that can be run on a timer for 6 – 8 hours per day so you don’t have to switch it on and off manually. Lighting can be attached under your hood, clip onto the rim of your aquarium, or be supported on its own stand.

Substrate

The sand, gravel, or other material at the bottom of a fish tank is called the substrate. There are many options to choose from when putting together a great betta fish tank. These include:

Sand and gravel are known as inert substrates because they do not leach out any nutrients into the water. These are usually the best options unless you plan on setting up a heavily planted tank. The color is completely up to you, although natural colors look so much better in a planted tank.

Excellent aquarium soils are available for aquarists looking to set up heavily planted aquariums. These substrates are more expensive, but fortunately, you won’t need too much in a small aquarium!

Substrates should be rinsed off before adding them to your tank because they can be dusty and cloud up your water. This is easy to do by putting the substrate in a bucket and running water through it until it stays clear.

Hardscape and Decorations

The hardscape in your betta fish tank is the collection of solid objects that are used to create structure and interest in the tank. Natural hardscape features like driftwood and stones are the best for creating a natural habitat for your fish.

Decorations can be a fun way to add character to your betta tank. There are many types of aquarium decorations, including themed objects like:

  • Sunken ships
  • Castles
  • Cartoon characters

One important thing to note is that any ornament you put into your tank needs to be aquarium-safe, and made specifically to be used in a fish tank. Betta fish have very long, flowing fins that tear easily on sharp edges, so inspect your ornaments carefully and file down any sharp points.

Fake Plants

Artificial plants are a great way to make your tank look more natural while avoiding caring for the real thing. As with plastic ornaments, however, plastic plants can have very sharp edges that can be dangerous for your fish. Silk plants and very soft plastic materials are the safest options.

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Backgrounds

Aquarium backgrounds are sheets of material that are attached to the outside of your aquarium’s back wall. These are completely optional but they can make your aquarium that much more interesting.

A plain matte black background is always a great option, but designs with rocks, pebbles, or plants are also available.

Live Plants

Live plants are fun to grow and care for, look amazing in a betta tank, and also help to maintain high water quality. Read this section for a brief introduction to growing live plants in your betta fish tank!

Plant Types

There are hundreds of different types of aquatic plants in the aquarium hobby, and their care needs differ from species to species.

All plants need the following:

  • Good light for 6-8 hours per day
  • Nutrients from the substrate or water column
  • Correct pH, temperature, and other parameters

Floating plants for your betta’s tank:

Floating plants float on top of the water. Betta fish breathe air from the surface, so never allow these plants to completely overgrow your tank.

  • Salvinia minima
  • Amazon Frogbit
  • Red root floater

Stem plants for your betta’s tank:

Stem plants are fast-growing species that grow from the substrate or by drifting in the water. These plants are great for soaking up excess nutrients in the water.

  • Limnophila sessiliflora
  • Rotala rotundifolia
  • Ludwigia repens

Epiphyte plants for your betta’s tank:

Epiphytes are plants that grow attached to objects like driftwood. They should not be grown in the substrate.

Moss plants for your betta’s tank:

Aquarium mosses are small, fine plants that can grow on your hardscape or float in the water column.

Rosette plants for your betta’s tank:

Rosette plants are ‘typical’ plants that grow rooted in the substrate of your aquarium.

Planting Your Plants

Stem plants and rosette plants need to be planted into the substrate to grow. This is easily done by grasping the bottom of the plant with a pair of aquascaping tweezers and gently pushing it into the substrate.

Epiphytes like Java ferns and moss should never be planted in the substrate. These plants should be attached to your driftwood or decorations with fine green cotton thread or even super glue.

Feeding Your Plants

Plants need nutrients to live and grow. If you plan on setting up a heavily planted aquarium, you will need to fertilize them regularly.

Plants that grow rooted in the substrate will take their nutrients from a good quality aquarium soil or root tabs. Floating plants and epiphytes can be fed with a water column fertilizer.

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Trimming Your Plants

Large, fast-growing plants can do an amazing job of maintaining good water quality, but they tend to need frequent trimming. A sharp pair of aquascaping scissors are your best friend here, just remember to net out all of the trimmings after you’re done.

Aquascaping

No introduction to aquarium plants would be complete without mentioning aquascaping. This is the art of creating amazing underwater ‘landscapes’ with live plants.

There are many different styles, but the two best options for a small betta tank are a sloping scape with the smallest plants in the front, moving to taller plants in the back, or an island of plants in the middle of the tank.

Setting Up Your Tank – 5 Steps For Success

Once you have everything you need to create the perfect tank for your betta, it’s time to put it all together! Read on to learn how.

1. Location

The first step when setting up a great tank for your betta is to choose the right location. An aquarium stand or cabinet is the ideal place to set up an aquarium, but smaller tanks can be put on other sturdy surfaces such as desks.

The surface should be perfectly level, perfectly flat, and strong enough to support the weight of the aquarium, water, and substrate. Avoid setting up your betta tank near a furnace or cold window, and avoid direct sunlight.

You should also avoid setting up your betta tank next to any electronics or other equipment that should not get wet. You will need an electrical outlet nearby of course to run your filter, heater, and lighting.

2. Protecting Your Aquarium

Before placing your aquarium on its surface, it’s vitally important that you make sure the bottom of the glass and the surface are clean and level. Any small object can cause your aquarium glass to crack and break.

If your tank didn’t already come with cushioning, you’ll need to purchase a padded aquarium mat to protect the bottom.

3. Decorating Your Aquarium

Once your aquarium is in place, it’s time to start decorating your tank and installing all the hardware. Let’s get started!

Start by cleaning your aquarium, just to make sure there are no chemicals or unwanted traces left from manufacturing and packaging. This is also a good time to add your aquarium background if you have one.

Now it’s time to add your substrate. Rinse it off first and then add it to the bottom of the tank gently. You can create depth in your layout by sloping your substrate up from the front to the back of the tank.

Next, you can decide where you want to position your filter and heater. It is best to place these items at the back of the tank where they can be hidden by driftwood, plants, or ornaments. Do not switch them on until your tank is filled with water!

Now it’s time to carefully arrange your decorations and hardscape. Give them a thorough cleaning before adding them to the tank.

New driftwood can often leach out tannins into the tank in the first few weeks. Soak it in water before adding it to your tank to see if this is the case. If so, you can speed up the process by soaking it in warm water.

4. Adding Water

The next step is to add water to your aquarium for the first time. This is an exciting step because you get a real feel for what it is going to look like! This is also the time when you can add live plants if you choose to go that route.

Tap water usually contains some chemicals that keep the water safe for human consumption. Unfortunately, these chemicals are harmful to aquatic organisms, so make sure you treat the water with a dechlorinator.

Pouring water into your aquarium will disturb the substrate and even move your decorations, so do this step slowly. One trick that works really well is to place a small plastic bag or sleeve onto the bottom of the tank and pour the water onto it.

Alternatively, you can make small holes in a plastic bag and pour the water through it, or even borrow a colander from the kitchen. Once your tank is full of water, you can turn on the filter and heater.

5. Cycling The Tank

Have you ever heard of aquarium cycling? Cycling is the process of establishing a beneficial bacteria population in your tank to get the nitrogen cycle up and running and provide biological filtration.

You can do this before you get your new betta fish by setting up the tank and running the filter for 2 to 4 weeks. Adding a little fish food to the water will provide the bacteria with the food they need to start growing.

You can also cycle your tank if you already have your betta fish (in fish cycle) by using a product like API Quickstart, but it’s important to test your water regularly and make water changes if necessary.

Recap

Here’s an example of the sequence you should follow:

  • Purchase all equipment
  • Choose your tank location
  • Put your aquarium in place
  • Rinse and then add your substrate
  • Position your filter, heater, hardscape, and decorations
  • Dechlorinate and then add water
  • Add live plants
  • Switch on your filter and heater
  • Cycle the aquarium and add your betta when you detect some nitrate, but no nitrite or ammonia in the water

Maintenance – Keeping Your Betta Fish Tank Healthy

When it comes to keeping bettas, maintenance is a really important part of the deal. Regular maintenance will keep your betta fish healthy and keep your tank looking beautiful. So what do you need to do?

The most important part of fish tank maintenance is managing the nitrogen cycle. In a healthy, cycled aquarium, the ammonia from fish waste and uneaten food will be broken down into nitrite and then into nitrate. Unfortunately, nitrate is not broken down any further (unless in a planted tank) and will build up to toxic levels if you don’t do anything about it.

Testing

Testing your water regularly is the only way to know how good your water quality is because harmful chemicals are invisible to the eye. You will need a test kit that can measure the following water parameters:

  • Ammonia
  • Nitrite
  • Nitrate
  • pH
  • GH

Once your aquarium is cycled and your betta is enjoying his or her new home, you will notice that the levels of nitrate (NO-3) start to rise. This nitrogen compound is safe for your betta fish in low concentrations but should be kept to below 20 parts per million (ppm) or so.

Read on to learn how to maintain high water quality!

Water Changes

The best way to manage the nitrate levels in your betta tank is to perform regular partial water changes. The process is really simple, here’s what you will need:

  • A water test kit to measure the nitrates before your water change
  • A gravel vacuum to siphon water out of the tank
  • A bucket for the old water
  • A bucket for the new water
  • A water conditioner/dechlorinator to neutralize tap water
  • A thermometer to help you bring the new water to the same temperature before adding it to the tank

At this point, you’re probably wondering how much water you should change and how often you need to do it. This is easily determined by testing your water.

If, for example, your test kit reads nitrates at 20 ppm and you want to bring it down to 10 ppm, you will need to do a 50% water change. if your nitrate levels jump back to 20 ppm after a week, you will need to repeat this schedule each week.

Other Maintenance

Testing your tank regularly and performing partial water changes are the most important maintenance tasks, but what else do you need to do to keep your tank clean?

  • From time to time your filtration media can get clogged with waste. Simply rinse it in old tank water (outside of your aquarium) to clean it out and protect your beneficial bacteria.
  • Algae often grow on aquarium glass and hardscape. They can be removed with an algae scraper and a small brush like a clean toothbrush.

Betta Tank Mates

The great thing about betta fish is that they can be kept on their own in relatively small tanks. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep them with any other types of fish though.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t keep more than one male betta fish in the same tank. They are called Siamese fighting fish for a reason! If you want to see a great video from our YouTube channel that goes over Betta Tank Mates, check it out below!

Adding a nerite snail is a great idea to help control algae in your betta fish aquarium. Shrimps can be risky though because many betta fish will attack them. If you would like to add more fish, however, you’re going to need a tank of at least 10 gallons to avoid overcrowding.

Here are 4 awesome freshwater fish that make great tank mates with betta fish in a larger community aquarium:

  • Corydoras Catfish – A peaceful schooling bottom dweller.
  • Neon tetras – A peaceful nano schooling fish for the midwater of your tank. These colorful fish should be kept in groups of 6 or more.
  • Otocinclus catfish – An amazing algae-eating catfish.
  • Kuhli loach – An interesting, eel-like aquarium fish that will eat uneaten food from the bottom of the tank.

Part of the deal when setting up a community tank is making sure that each species is comfortable in the same tank size, setup, and water parameters. Here’s a quick recap on the requirements of your betta fish:

  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Hardness: 5-20 DH
  • Water temperature: 76-81°F
  • Minimum tank size: 5 gallons
  • Water flow: Low

FAQs

What do bettas need in their tank?

Every betta fish tank setup should include a good quality filter, a heater, a thermometer, and aquarium-safe decorations or hardscape. Substrate and live plants are optional but highly recommended.

How long should you wait to put betta fish in a new tank?

It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to complete a fishless cycle. Your tank is cycled when ammonia and nitrite levels read zero but nitrates are present.

Do Bettas need rocks or sand?

Betta fish do not necessarily need substrate in their aquarium although it can make your aquarium look more interesting and natural. Sand or gravel will also help to anchor ornaments and even live plants. Barebottom aquariums are an option but they need a lot of cleaning or they tend to look a little messy.

How do you prepare the water for a betta fish?

Start by testing your water to see if the pH is correct for your betta fish. The water will also need to be in the safe temperature range to avoid temperature shock. Tap water should always be treated with a water conditioner/dechlorinator to neutralize chemicals.

What do you need for a betta fish setup?

Bettas need a tank of at least 5 gallons with a filter and a heater. Decorating their home with substrate, ornaments, and live plants will create a more natural and comfortable home for your betta fish.

Final Thoughts

Setting up your first betta fish tank is easy and really affordable. Follow the advice in this guide to set up a betta tank that is fit for your amazing new pet!

Do you keep betta fish? Tell us about your betta tank setup in the comments below!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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